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Chicago teachers union eyes future security with charter merger

From Reuters - August 12, 2017

CHICAGO (Reuters) - After trying for years to stymie the growth of charter schools in Chicago, leaders of its public school teachers' union are seeking to enlist staff from charter schools in a bid to strengthen the unions bargaining power and tap a new source of members fees.

Union officials in the third-largest U.S. city say their push for a tie-up took on added urgency after U.S. President Donald Trump chose Betsy DeVos, a backer of charter and private schools, as his education secretary.

In cities and suburbs across the country, charters and traditional public schools have been in fierce competition for students and financing. But many are united in their rejection of private schools and voucher programs.

Unions fear Trump and DeVos will slash funding for traditional public schools, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) wants charter members to boost their ranks in order to help them fight back.

A more unified approach has long been the answer, said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the CTU.

"I do not think we are going to get to keep public education the way we currently think of it unless people organize and prepare to defend it," he said.

Charter schools are free and open to the public but are run independently of local school districts by private companies that compete for state funds. They often boast small class sizes, innovative teaching styles or a particular academic focus. Their numbers in the United States have shot up to more than 6,000, from 2,500 a decade ago.

An estimated 6 percent of U.S. public school students, or more than 3 million pupils, attend charter schools.

The possibility of a merger has many eyes on Chicago, where the proportion of charter school teachers who are unionized on their own is much higher than in other cities.

While only about 10 percent of U.S. charter schools had collective bargaining agreements last year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 25 percent of Chicago's 130 charter schools are organized.

Leaders of the city's unionized charter school educators say they see the benefits in joining forces with the CTU.

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